fuquinay.com http://fuquinay.com fuquinay.com Fri, 22 Jun 2018 21:58:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 The “Living” Room http://fuquinay.com/2017/11/05/the-living-room/ http://fuquinay.com/2017/11/05/the-living-room/#respond Sun, 05 Nov 2017 18:25:56 +0000 http://www.fuquinay.com/?p=1275 I’ve been cleaning my living room for almost three hours—vacuuming, dusting, cleaning behind the furniture. The only thing left is the blinds, and I just can’t.

I was hoping to, as I cleaned, get rid of some stuff: tchotchkes on the mantel, excess books, pillows, doodads and knickknacks, rocks, shells, bones. It’s this kind of artistic clutter that sometimes overloads my senses. I’m growing out of having so much stuff—at least philosophically.

And then I look around, and I can’t find a thing to do without. It seems silly to discard a rock with the word “serenity” carved into it when it’s literally the only thing I could live without. Yet serenity is the thing I’m trying to achieve!

Emotionally, my stuff holds sway. Today, I settle for the dust having been removed from the dust catchers and all the rest of the surfaces.

Maybe that’s why I so resent the Marie Kondos of the world. It’s not that they aren’t correct about getting rid of what doesn’t bring joy; it’s that so few things bring them joy.

I have an alabaster box from artist friend Mitch Gyson. Inside are my grandmother’s dentures, my daughter’s umbilical cord, and my wisdom teeth. Why does this bring me joy? I don’t know, but it does. (I’ve written about my “gross things box” before.) There’s a sculpture of a falconer from my mom’s partner Lenny, which looks remarkably like “L’Homme au doigt,” the pointing man, by Alberto Giacometti, 1947. Joy! There are carved wooden birds, gifts from friends; photos of my beloved and deceased dogs and cats, most of Beowulf, the standard-bearer; a pair of leather-and-feather crows; a wooden crow in cowboy boots; a knitted guitar pillow made for our daughter by a friend and neighbor; the last remaining copies of my poetry chapbook, BOYGIRLBOYGIRL, and the copy of my cake book in which I corrected all the typos; the last few items from my frog collection; a paperweight that belonged to my grandmother; knitting I started and never finished but which is so pretty I can’t rip it out; a hat box that held a gift from my sister and that makes the red chair and the red rug work in a brown room (it also hides a bunch of shit I meant to put away but is uncategorized). Joy, joy, joy!

Much of what is in the room is one of a kind. No one has my silver velvet sofa, which is about 20 years old, or my hand-carved rocking chair, which is uncomfortable but gorgeous, or my prototype tables with wood bloom, to which I added the stained-glass mosaic tops commissioned by my mother (who returned these to me when she redecorated), or the gorgeous art deco mirror of hers that I coveted, but which returns a terrifyingly distorted image. There are a dozen masks, some purchased in Venice, some bought in New York, some made by friends, some inherited. There are heirlooms and souvenirs and shows of affection and love, like the string of 7-up lights from my friend Aliza and the anniversary edition of my favorite book of poetry, Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, a gift from my husband. There’s the dead crow my husband brought to show me one cold and lonesome February, which I had mounted.

One of my favorite things in the room (nothing beats the stuffed crow or the portrait of me as the crow queen made entirely from masking tape), though, is a mass-produced garden statue. I’ve used her in so many of my own photographs and made her a political prop, a token of love, and a symbol of serenity. Into the base is carved: “In the garden of your soul, plant kindness and simplicity.”

I’ve not been so successful with the latter, but the former? If the amount of love that is heaped on me (so much that I get a little something in my eye just thinking about it) is any indication, I must be doing that well.

We don’t do much “living” in this room. I suspect it’s like many of the living rooms across the country: a place where you plop down your more formal company. Marty finds the sofa uncomfortable and uses the room only to nap in my red leather, electric recliner. I sometimes watch TV or work from that chair, but it’s rare. Every now and then, I consider moving the furniture around or changing something about it or emptying it entirely and having tiny house concerts in it. Instead, I just give it a good cleaning and try to find something to throw away.

“War on Women,” 11/13/2015

“Bird Angel,” 1/2/13

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Irish Folk Songs (Part 1 of ?) http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/25/irish-folk-songs-part-1-of/ http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/25/irish-folk-songs-part-1-of/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 18:02:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/25/irish-folk-songs-part-1-of/ I’m here in Listowel, Ireland thinking about thanks and possessed of a sublime gratitude. Last night, my daughter and nephew sang in my sister’s living room, and Beth shared it on my Facebook wall. It was the next best thing to being there. After nine days away, and especially on the holiday named for the gratitude we all possess but lose sight of sometimes, I ached for home.

But my Thanksgiving was extraordinary, even by tourist standards. I awoke at 8:00 and cooked scrambled eggs and salmon for me and Carol, my perfect housemate for these two weeks in Listowel, and finished gluing my mosaic. At 3:30, I walked over to Mike the Pies, a well-respected music venue and pub, where I got to watch a Mannequin Challenge reboot—and see it filmed for live TV, meet the journalist and crew, talk to the bar patrons, and introduce myself to the band I am supposed to be shooting the next day.

An older Irishman sitting with friends tells me to smile, which I don’t tolerate well. I have been smiling and standing all afternoon and am just trying to comfort my back, which has ached from sunup to sunup since the start of my journey. I oblige with an exaggerated grin but joke about not smiling because I’m an American unhappy with the direction of my country. This leads to a good political discussion about the Electoral College and gives me a chance to accentuate the positive attributes of Hillary Clinton with the man, who doesn’t like either candidate but says that our election of Donald Trump has made us the laughingstock of the world. Before we part, I snap a photo of him.

Carol and I have a quiet pizza dinner in the apartment, take-away from the always-crowded pizzeria next door (it needs sauce but is otherwise pizza) before heading back to Mike the Pies, where the band Wyvern Lingo is set to perform.

Random Mannequin Challenge participants

A few of the same patrons are still at the bar. One of them, an Englishman, is a Trump and Brexit supporter (they seem to go hand-in-hand); the other is an older Irishman drinking Coors Light with ice. Carol and I speak with the group, which includes the Englishman’s wife, for a long time, laughing uproariously at times, sharing stories about ourselves, and generally enjoying each other’s company (I thought). We talk about geography and distance, favorite books and authors, English television shows, weather, politics—typical pub fare.

The Englishman says that he’s found all Americans to be either Irish or Italian, wants to know if that’s true.

Because of who I am, I do what my mother might have advised against: I tell the man that I’m neither Irish nor Italian. “I’m Jewish,” I say.

“I don’t like Jews,” says the Irishman.

His English friend rebukes him sharply in an instant, then implores him: “Tell her why. Tell her.” He turns to me and says, “He doesn’t like Jews because he was in the IRA, and they used to buy arms from Palestinians.” Whatever. I’m not having it. Whether you’re seven or seventy, you’re getting schooled.

“Were we not just having a lovely talk?,” I ask him. “Did we not enjoy each other’s company and conversation this afternoon?” More than anger or sadness, I feel wounded, and I’m nervous, but not on the verge of tears. “I don’t know how you can say that,” I tell him. Carol [admits, confesses, comes clean about] her Judaism, too.

He says, “I’ll tell you why I don’t like the Jews.” He sits quietly for minutes. “I’ll tell you why.” He can’t think of a reason. At least he can’t say it. And he doesn’t. More rebukes from his friend follow. (The Englishman’s wife just shakes her head from time to time.)

“What a conversation killer that was!” I exclaim. “I guess it’s a good time to announce that I have cancer.” No one seems to hear me (for those who don’t know me, I do have cancer, but just a little), and the subject is no longer the horrible Jews.

A little while later, the Irishman asks if I believe in god. I have to laugh because I’m about to disappoint him yet again. He takes my hand and smooths it with his finger. “Are you blessing me?” I ask, laughing. He says, “Something like it.” He tells me that when something bad happens to me, like when I’m old and get sick, I’ll remember that thing he just did, and I’ll know that God will take care of me and keep me from harm.

I consider this his apology, his way of making amends. That’s at least how I’m going to think of it.

Hatred is a complicated concept. It’s a dislike beyond revulsion. Holding people in contempt because they have a god or a skin color or a language or a body that’s different from our own is almost always a question of preconceived ideas rather than experiences. How is it that we are taught to hate through words but taught to love through experience? I guess that’s the pussy of an answer, isn’t it? That we meet hate with love? I can’t do that, either.

Wendell Berry wrote the following poem with a dedication to his granddaughters, who’d visited the Holocaust Museum on the day Yitzhak Rabin was buried:

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry, 

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.
But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

Karen Cowley—vocals, bass, keys

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

While I don’t stand fully in that light, I know that Carol and I have made a small difference tonight when both the Englishman and the Irishman tell us they hope to run into us again before we leave Listowel for good.

Saoirse Duane—vocals and guitar

But we are here at Mike the Pies for the music from a talented trio called Wyvern Lingo. I’d first heard of them a few months ago while I was looking up the solo work of people who have been associated with Hozier, whose first album is probably the best thing recorded in the last 20 years. When I learned that I would be coming to Ireland, I looked into the bands that would be playing and was shocked to learn that Wyvern Lingo would be in the very town where I was staying, and on Thanksgiving night. I literally jumped up and down in the kitchen when I discovered it, then wrote to Aidan, the bar’s owner, begging for tickets, then wrote to Carol to tell her she had Thanksgiving plans whether she liked it or not.

And she loved it. We loved it. 

Caoimhe Barry—vocals and drums

We are still high from the singing angels who are otherwise known as Karen, Saoirse (say SIR-sha), and Caoimhe (say QUEE-va). For a little over an hour, they perform most of their own songs plus three covers, which include an Alt-J mashup, Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and Joni Mitchell’s “The River,” which finally does me in. Something is bound to make me cry this trip besides getting clunked on the head with my comb in the shower.

Since I’m here to be an “artist” of some sort, my goal with this trip was to make art—to write, to mosaic, and to shoot. I especially wanted to hone my portrait skills, so I had messaged the band before coming to Listowel to see if they could accommodate me.

(Aside: I know what you’re thinking: I thought you don’t work for free. Correct. Something of value must be traded for something of value, usually product for money. This is, for me, an equal trade.)

After the show, I make plans to meet the women by the church in the square, and I buy two CDs and a t-shirt, which I wear to bed. I sleep and dream that I am singing.

I am.

Check out their acapella version of their song “Used” from last night.

]]> http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/25/irish-folk-songs-part-1-of/feed/ 1 RESIST http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/10/131-2/ http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/10/131-2/#respond Thu, 10 Nov 2016 13:09:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2016/11/10/131-2/  
My daughter is a great person. I admire her for many reasons, her breathtaking beauty the least of them. She is kind. She is concerned. She is conscientious. She recycles.
As a little girl, she used to plug worms back into the ground so they wouldn’t burn to death on the sidewalk. I used to call her Serena Bambina, Worm Saver, and drew pictures of her with a W on her chest.
When she was a young teen, she would see homeless people as we drove her to school or School of Rock, and she would make us roll down the window so that she could give someone her own money, out of her own wallet.
Last night, she was shocked and upset. She has felt a little panicked all day today, and she asked me what she could do now. So I gave her a few ideas—start a club at school, make pamphlets, spread information so that people know the email addresses and phone numbers of their senators and representatives. But the thing I think she should do is the thing she does best: write. (And when the song comes, you can bet I’ll post it here. And then I will ask you to buy it for a dollar, which will go to Planned Parenthood. They will need it.)
As for me: I make a relatively good living. I have health insurance. I am beyond childbearing years. I am white. I am straight. I live in the city. I came from parents who had nothing at first but became well off. My husband and I are both college educated and have no college loan debt (I have two master’s degrees, and my husband has one in legal and ethical studies, plus bachelor’s degrees in history, philosophy, and education.) My daughter is at college on a scholarship and will have no debt, either.
I do not need special healthcare from my government. I don’t need an abortion (but I did twice and was lucky enough to be able to get them). I am not worried about being sent back to another country. I am already married to a man, so I don’t have to worry about the freedom to marry a woman.
I voted so that you could have these things. I voted because what I enjoy as a citizen should be yours to enjoy. I voted for you. Because you should get to decide to marry the person you love, and you should get to decide how to handle your own healthcare. And you should get to escape poverty and terrorism and pursue the American dream, you being our tired, our poor, our huddled masses.
The three of us proudly voted for Hillary Clinton, and we did it early because we couldn’t wait to do it, and we celebrated with sushi afterward. In four years, I would vote for her again. In eight.
As a family and on our own, we looked into Secretary Clinton’s record (her real, actual, true, factual record, in case you’re wondering) because we are grownups, and when someone tells us something, we check it out for ourselves. It’s our responsibility to do that, to inform ourselves, rather than to take the competition’s word for it. (Seriously, do you take Coke’s word for why Pepsi isn’t good, or do you taste them for yourself and decide?) We know how Hillary Clinton investigated private schools as a law student to see whether they discriminated against black people. We know that she was the first employee of the Children’s Defense Fund, which was started to help disadvantaged children. We know that she has spent her entire life and career trying to help other people, especially women, children, and minorities. She has supported the LGBT community, women’s rights, and human rights around the world. She expanded the Family Medical Leave Act. She graduated from Yale Law School at a time when few women did that. And she won a fucking Grammy!
You know that parable about the squirrel who eats all his nuts while another squirrel stores them away, and then it’s winter, and the squirrel who ate his nuts is starving, but the other squirrel has all of his nuts saved up, and he ain’t sharing? That’s not a true scenario. All squirrels store their nuts. But some squirrels don’t get as many because they don’t have the same opportunities. (People still do not get to see apartments because their voices “sound black” when they call.) Some squirrels just don’t have the same opportunities. It’s in my best interest to share. And it makes me feel good to help someone.
In this election, as in every election, I voted for other people. I voted for black people—for a black man to not get shot while doing his job protecting an autistic white man who is having a meltdown. I voted for my daughter to be able to marry a woman if she is in love. I voted for your neighbor to have affordable health insurance. I voted so that the veterans panhandling at the JFX and Cold Spring Lane could have some nuts.
I’m going to cry for a long time. I’m sad. I’m frustrated. I’m worried. I’m afraid for our future, about the messages we send to our daughters. I’m worried about the messages we’re sending our sons!
But I’m not shrinking. And I will ALWAYS live by the motto that I espouse here and there and everywhere: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” (That’s Rabbi Hillel, who also implored us to follow the Golden Rule:  “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.” That is the whole bible, too—the whole Koran (Qur’an). The Golden Rule is the foundation of almost every religion on earth.
Friends, let’s do something good. Let’s do something useful. Many of us remember eight miserable years under George W. Bush. We know how that felt, and it’s going to be harder this time. We can’t let that stop us. So as soon as we’re finished grieving, let those poems and colors and notes flow, flow like the liquid analgesics many of us will need for a few more weeks.
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maybe someday you http://fuquinay.com/2016/06/05/maybe-someday-you/ http://fuquinay.com/2016/06/05/maybe-someday-you/#comments Sun, 05 Jun 2016 23:11:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2016/06/05/maybe-someday-you/
“Suck Voice” illustration by Jennifer Sarah Blakeslee

The worst part about mental illness is not simply having it. It’s not the waking up some mornings in such a state that you wonder if you can get out of bed or, if you can, make it to the end of the day. It’s not unplanned crying or the deprivation of lasting joy, nor your aiming for, yet always missing, cloud 9. It’s not the heaviness or feelings of uselessness and inadequacy or the fear that someone will discover you to be the fraud you just know you are. It’s embarrassing that you continue to do what you do. You’re embarrassing. At least today.
The worst part about mental illness is not others’ misunderstandings about it. It’s not their quizzical stares or musings or third degree about your great job, your talented children, your loving friends, your comfortable home, your talents and skills, all of which form one tour de force of a life, so how dare you? It’s not even their presumption that you’re somehow ungrateful for all these magnificent gifts, that if you just woke up and recognized every morning how goddamned lucky you are, the despair would melt away. It’s not that as you write this, you know they just want to shake you or slap you or, best, snap you out of it. (Snap. Snap.) Nope, sorry.
The worst part about mental illness is not all the memes about positivity that blame you every day for not being able to make lemonade out of all the lemons, primarily because there are no lemons (see above), and life is beautiful. Sorry, all of you attitude-is-everything believers. Attitude is only everything when there’s nothing else in the way of it. It’s why some people who get cancer are cheerful and positive and others aren’t. That’s who they are. It’s a pretty lucky way to be born (cheerful and positive; nothing lucky about cancer).
The worst part about mental illness is not that you know what to do about it but can’t summon the energy to do it. That sleep eludes you. That elusive sleep leads to poor choices and bad habits and eating for serotonin and energy, which leads to weight gain, which leads to sluggishness, which leads to lethargy. That waking up at 4:45 after 4 hours and 45 minutes of sleep can, if you struggle with depression, kick the whole day’s ass.
The worst part about mental illness is not anything that happens to you, frankly, because you can take care of yourself. You know that tomorrow or the next day, you can stop swimming and take a breath that doesn’t choke. After all these years, you have some coping skills. You know there’s a bird called hope who might yet perch at your sill. Could be tomorrow. Could even be this afternoon, when the sun suddenly comes out, giving you enough energy to pick yourself off the floor.
No, the worst part about mental illness is passing it on to your children.
First, there’s the guilt: that driving a mile back to the house when she was three to make sure you turned the stove off (you did; you always did) or locked the door (you did; you always did) set a bad example for your child. That those times she saw you crying or heard you weeping in your room at night or pacing the floors in the morning’s loneliest hours when she was four or six or twelve were indelible. That your worry about money or crime or time or work was so palpable that she soaked it in and caught the disease. Guilt, even, that you had a child at all.
And then there’s the worst part about the worst part about mental illness, which is knowing that your child is suffering. Knowing that someone you love is in despair is hard enough, but when it’s your own kid, it is like a balloon trying to rescue an anchor or an anchor trying to rescue a balloon. It can’t go anywhere, but it can still pop.
A person who doesn’t understand that despair is no luckier. That person can look at her child with that quizzical expression (you have everything, dear! What is your life lacking?), missing the gravity of it, a blessing and a curse. But a young person’s hopelessness is a crisis. Because young people have not learned, like you have learned, that hope will perch at your sill, even come in and crap on your head, bringing such good fortune that it will be enough to make you keep that window open.
Not only do so many young people not know about this thing with feathers, but they don’t even open their blinds, which is, I have learned, the simplest thing you can do physically to alter the direction of a day. (It doesn’t work alone, but sun can sneak in, literally and metaphorically.)
So when my daughter and I argue, it’s in the back of my mind. When she apologizes to me, it’s in the back of my mind. When we leave her home, it’s in the back of my mind. When she takes the car, it’s in the back of my mind. When I don’t see her come home at night, it’s in the back of my mind. And when I wake up at 5:45 a.m. to discover that she has not yet been to sleep, it’s on my mind.1 Once you know what it feels like to be in a very bad place, you know what it’s like for someone else to be in a very bad place. And sometimes—this is the worst of the worst of the worst part—they don’t tell you.
One day, your daughter is the captain of the volleyball team and a straight-A student, and the next day, you are calling 911. I know too many (one is too many, and I know more) parents who have come home to find their children unwell in a way they never knew was possible and that cannot ever be forgotten. Those children can be the hardest to save.
Though I’ve had it all my life, I was formally diagnosed with “high-functioning depression” shortly after I had my daughter. It’s characterized by over-achievement in the face of serious anxiety, OCD, depression, or other mental illness. My daughter, a talented songwriter and musician, has it, too. (Read more about it, please, here: “The Danger of High-Functioning Depression as Told by a College Student.”)

It’s why I go into my daughter’s room in the morning and open her blinds. She complains every time, but if she wants them closed, she has to get up to close them. It’s why some days I make her (as much as one can make an 18-year-old woman) go outside or start the day with something other than sugar. She is a new person and doesn’t know yet that these habits will help her when she is 40 and 50 and 70. Living should be, soon, an unbreakable habit.


Why am I telling you this? It’s not because I want your sympathy. I never want that. I don’t want pity or sorrow or a shoulder or even empathy (though empathy’s not a bad thing to have for others’ circumstances). I tell you about it because I want you to know, and I want that knowledge to lead to understanding. Eventually, I want you to stop believing that the only problem depressed people have is ingratitude or a bad attitude or that they can overcome their own misery by smiling more (because even if all the science in the world says that it helps, depression is an impediment). 
But I’m not sure I want you to let us off the hook entirely, either. Sometimes we do need to let some of that shit go, and if you tell us that with some accompanying bad jokes and good puns and laughter and friendship, we might.And a pep talk every now and again can’t hurt.

No matter what you’re going through in your life, the best thing I can wish for you is that you have someone to open the blinds, even when you think you don’t want to let any light in. I will be that for you. You be that for me.
1Why wasn’t my daughter in bed asleep after coming home from her friend’s house after I was already asleep, after having texted me a sincere apology for our misunderstanding earlier in the evening before she left? She was recording this, “On the Shoulders of Giants (Maybe Someday You).” I sat listening to it at 5:15 a.m., tears streaming down my face and landing on my lap with a splash.

The last time she stayed up all night, she recorded this, called “Leather Jacket Art.”

2Just not, please, with a meme. Enough with the memes already.

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the cupcake exception http://fuquinay.com/2014/12/07/the-cupcake-exception/ http://fuquinay.com/2014/12/07/the-cupcake-exception/#comments Sun, 07 Dec 2014 21:43:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2014/12/07/the-cupcake-exception/ I haven’t seen myself naked in 13 years.
I exaggerate. It’s only been about three years since I took a gander at my own naked reflection. When I emerge from the shower, I’m already tightly wrapped in a towel that I swear keeps shrinking in the wash. In the morning, I avert my eyes when I pass a mirror until most of my clothes are on. And when I finally do look, it’s to make sure that the only skin showing is below my elbow or (barely) above my cleavage.
I don’t know what made me stand naked in the hallway before the full-length mirror today. Maybe I needed extra motivation for the diet that starts tomorrow. Maybe I felt it would discourage me from eating that extra biscuit at brunch. Or maybe Aliza Worthington’s complicated feelings about her weight inspired me to take new stock of my stockiness and really deal with it. 
ca. 2003, after a 30-mile bike ride.
I thought I was fat.
Aliza’s struggle with her weight and body shape mimics my own. My husband says I’ve had a poor body image since we met more than 30 years ago. And that’s because—excepting a year at 34 and two years at 40—I’ve had a poor body for three decades. 
At 52, it’s not only fat, but my body doesn’t even get me from here to there very well. At least two of my spinal discs are blown; my toes tingle, and my balance is compromised. Now I’m winded walking up the stairs, too. Being fat is uncomfortable and unhealthy. But that’s not to say this is all about health. It’s vanity, too. My current wardrobe consists of a closet full of elastic-waist skirts (a friend wisely calls them “crotchless yoga pants”), t-shirts from Target, and cardigan sweaters, seven of them black. My other wardrobe—the expensive boutique pants in size 6 and pretty sweaters and tank tops and trim suits—is packed away under the attic eaves for when I can wear those things again.
And I am convinced that I will wear them again. Because believing that I won’t means I’m stuck with this body forever. And even if it’s not the worst thing in the world, it’s not acceptable. I don’t even want to accept it. I might as well start wearing sweatshirts with cats on them.
2006: I called this one “jelly belly.”
A minute ago, I stopped writing to answer the front door. It was my neighbor, Anne, with a box of four homemade cupcakes. I am eating mine now—because of tomorrow’s diet. I would like to think of that cupcake as the exception, but it’s not. And nearly every person I know who has gained weight believes in the cupcake exception, believes she eats a relatively good diet, free of fast foods and extra calories, despite the half bottles of wine on Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays; the extra servings of smoked almonds; the dressing she dips her salad in, rather than pours on it, even though she uses it all anyway. 
And that’s why I believe in diets, still, after all these years. Diets themselves do work. Whether you reach the calorie deficit by Atkins or Weight Watchers or Paleo or Beachbody doesn’t matter as long as it’s something you can stick with for the six weeks it’ll take you to stop hating the skinny bitches who always sit at your table when you go out for dinner. For the six weeks it’ll take you to get used to what eating right feels like, you just need to suck it up by not swallowing every morsel in your path. Which means when Anne knocks on the door with a box of homemade cupcakes, you say thanks and give them to the skinny bitches who always live in your house. 
It’s not that diets don’t work. It’s that you don’t. 
2014: The cupcake exception.
If it were that easy, however, my closet would be full of size-six boutique clothing, and I’d be able to find the Christmas ornaments under the eaves. But to blame diets for my own inability to adhere to them is to abandon all responsibility for the extra 20 pounds—and, worse, all hope for removing them. In my case, this is my fault. Even if it’s not about blame, it is about cause and effect. And though a few events might have had a hand in the expansion of my rear cargo space, the stress of my job or my father’s death or whatever else may be bothering me was not relieved by eating—or drinking—my anger or sadness. (And menopause sees to it that the damage isn’t undone easily.)
Some people advocate for making peace with our fat. I’m not that evolved. Besides, you haven’t seen me naked. This morning, after I recovered from the shock of it, I picked myself up off the floor, put some ice on my head, and put on my fancy crotchless yoga pants, Target t-shirt, and black cardigan in the dark. Then I went to brunch with some women I hadn’t seen since high school and ate the extra biscuit.

Because—you know. Tomorrow. I wish I could say it will be the last time I diet, that I’ll never again succumb to the power of cake, that I’ll never sneak a peppermint patty in the car, that I won’t cave in to the desire to enjoy an IPA every day after work. And I’m fine with that. But what I’m not fine with is spending the rest of my life uncomfortable in elastic-waist clothing when there’s a chance, however slim, that I can be uncomfortable in a pair of size 8 skinny jeans.

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in the attic http://fuquinay.com/2014/11/09/in-the-attic/ http://fuquinay.com/2014/11/09/in-the-attic/#comments Sun, 09 Nov 2014 13:52:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2014/11/09/in-the-attic/ I’m not a hoarder. I’m a saver. Hoarders take in all the cats. They hold onto all the magazines and newspapers and mail. Savers keep the things with sentimental value. Hoarders stack their piles in the way of life—high towers of precariously perched magazines, too-tall bundles of mail, each folded and returned to its envelope, all of it claiming surface and volume. Savers put their keepsakes in plastic boxes in the attic. Hoarders keep things out of fear; savers keep them out of love.
Still, I’ve saved too much. I have enough ornaments for three Christmas trees; Halloween costumes that, while I made them myself, fit no one; original boxes from cameras and computers I no longer have; hat after hat after hat; a sewing machine I don’t know how to use; a serger machine, ditto; leftover copies of the magazine I used to publish; 72 VHS tapes we’ll never watch; box after box of point-and-shoot photos, five pictures worth looking at again; lighted garland and a lighted wreath we’ve never used and will never use; a yellow Boby trolley with a set of clogged Rapidographs and black-from-use Staedtler erasers; boxes full of books that were never unpacked when we moved here 20 years ago; dry-rotted duffel bags.

And then there’s the paperwork. Even if you save nothing (who are you?), you have a few years worth of documents, tax returns, and bill receipts. I have more: papers and designs from high school and college (my favorite: a font I designed, the example and title a reference to The Cars, with an A+ from Ed Smith, an art teacher who died a decade ago), clever or meaningful correspondences, birthday and congratulations cards with sentiments so lovely they probably made me cry, acceptance and rejection letters, press clippings from the times I was in the news or in the band. One of my favorite saved things: a letter to my daughter’s first-grade teacher informing her that I will not enforce the use of the D’Nealian k. It was a funny letter, but the school did not laugh. Instead, I got a reputation.

Until recently, all of this “savings” was hidden under the eaves, in the cabinets we’d had built for this very thing. But the gems are spilling, and I’m worried that they’ll come crashing through the floor and kill me in my sleep. So I am sifting through, sorting out the permanent keepers from the things that can go, like tax returns from 1997 and business receipts from a venture that failed in 2006.
In holding on and discarding, I’ve learned three things.
1. I was always bold. Among my high-school papers is a comparison of Dracula to Vlad the Impaler: “A Tale of Two Sickies.” The pair of “bloody” holes punched in the upper corner was my mother’s idea, but I wasn’t afraid. There’s also a rhyming poem—for tenth grade English—called “or maybe an aspirin,” which ends with the line, “or maybe a good fuck,” as if I had known what that even meant.
2. I am a good friend. Sometimes I wonder why people like me, and I still don’t know the answer. But if I had any doubts, words people put inside these hundreds of cards should dispel them. I could take away from this the fact that I have good friends. But how can you consistently have wonderful people surrounding and supporting you, saying  extraordinary things about you, unless you’re good to them? More proof: breakup letters I’d written to two old friends I felt had wronged me. They are better friends than ever now. 

3. I am an optimist. This one might sound like a stretch, but there’s no other way to explain it. I have saved, for at least a dozen years—some much longer—clothing in size 6 and 8. OK, yes. I admit it. The size 10s are up there, too, now.

I’m sentimental. It’s true. But I can count the times, this one included, that I’ve looked at those cards in the last sixteen years on one finger. So most of them are in the box of our five-year-old iMac, where I’ve stuffed 50 pounds of papers for recycling. But I kept a few of them and a few of my school papers. And yes, I kept all the clothes, too. You never know.

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open letter to the lady who reserved twelve feet of beachfront property by placing two chairs ten feet apart http://fuquinay.com/2014/08/19/open-letter-to-the-lady-who-reserved-twelve-feet-of-beachfront-property-by-placing-two-chairs-ten-feet-apart/ http://fuquinay.com/2014/08/19/open-letter-to-the-lady-who-reserved-twelve-feet-of-beachfront-property-by-placing-two-chairs-ten-feet-apart/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:44:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2014/08/19/open-letter-to-the-lady-who-reserved-twelve-feet-of-beachfront-property-by-placing-two-chairs-ten-feet-apart/ This open letter was rejected by McSweeney’s. Only the best rejections for me.
Dear Lady Who Reserved Twelve Feet of Beachfront Property by Placing Two Chairs Ten Feet Apart,
Please forgive me today for breaking the invisible force field between the Tommy Bahama “The Coolest Spot in Paradise” beach chair and the blue no-frills version, both of which sat peacefully at the water’s edge this morning, hypnotized by the hazy sun, lulled by the white noise of crashing surf.
I should have felt the chairs’ almost-psychic connection—and indeed would have had I not gotten so much sun the day before, my skin a leathery, impenetrable shield that wasn’t even tickled by the electricity emitted by this meant-to-be pair.
So when you called from the blanket behind us and excused yourself to tell me “that’s my chair” as I put my own between the two—still so far from either that I’d have had to yell to them over the waves slamming the sand after last night’s storms were we to converse—I was not at all being facetious when I asked if you’d like for me to move it closer to its friend (its lover?). Blame it on vacation brain! Blame it on being a mom traveling alone with teenagers. (Or blame it on the fact that one chair was a pillow-clad, mesh-pocketed, deluxe model, the other a one-position chair equipped with nothing, not even a colorful Coors Light ad on its back, though perhaps the pricey one came from Costco and the other from Sunsations, where it was likely to cost just as much, so who am I to judge?)

It’s an endearing little custom of your people, that of sending the men out in the early morning to plant the tent legs and umbrellas in the prime spots, dig them in hard against the high tide coming along in two hours, and space the chairs so they get the proper breathing room. They work so hard, those chairs, stuffed for 358 days in cramped lockers under the sundeck. They deserve their freedom. After all, I get a whole cubicle to myself for nine hours five days a week, with weekends to move about freely.

Besides, they got here first. What am I doing at 7:00 a.m. but lazily wiping counters and folding laundry between sips of coffee on the 15th floor of the Capri, staring longingly out the salt-crusted window as a striped canvas forest unfolds before my eyes, a panorama of umbels breaking ground and blooming all at once, big swaths of wild umbrellas a wildlife preserve for bikini- and tankini-clad wives and mothers who will finally come to keep their belongings company after a leisurely breakfast at 10, the ice in their red plastic cups watering down the mimosas and bloody Marys in the elevator.

I’m sorry, your red plastic cup. Your melted ice. And then you have to stand there and endure the likes of me, my age- and sea-addled brain just not getting it, just not comprehending that empty chairs—like so many blankets and towels lying out on cruise chaises at 6:00 a.m.—deserve their rightful place in the front row.
I am humbled by my mistake and, truth be told, a little embarrassed. So I apologize not only for myself but for my chair, a blue Tommy Bahama “The Coolest Spot in Paradise” chair,  borrowed from my sister, which demanded that we sit arm-in-arm with yours and which was crestfallen when you moved it.
Couldn’t you feel the connection? If not, you’ll probably get another chance. We’re here till Friday.
Best,

Leslie F. Miller

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on being super http://fuquinay.com/2014/07/15/on-being-super/ http://fuquinay.com/2014/07/15/on-being-super/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:13:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2014/07/15/on-being-super/

 “Everyone’s special, Dash.”
“Which is another way of saying no one is.”
—Dash and Elastigirl, The Incredibles
 

 “And when everyone’s super, no one will be.”
—Syndrome, The Incredibles

Once in a rare while, my mother will call, and we’ll have a conversation that starts like this.

“Hello?”
“[sob] Hello [sob]”
“What’s the matter?”
“It’s [sob] so beautiful [sob].”
“What?”
“Your poem. I don’t know how you do it.”

That’s when I know.  And it’s how I know.
I am a writer. I have an undergraduate degree in English, an MFA in Creative Nonfiction, and a book published by Simon & Schuster. I’ve been writing for magazines and newspapers for thirty years, and I taught college English for 17. My 8 to 5 job is as a writer in the marketing department of a public corporation.
All writers need an editor, and my mother is a great one.
Most of the time, she calls with edits, corrections, and suggestions. She tells me when a word doesn’t mean what I think it means or when I’ve misspelled one. Her overall opinion is sometimes buried beneath the numbers of pieces of constructive advice on how to make my work better. I trust it. So when she calls me sobbing over a poem or an essay she saw somewhere, I know it’s a winner, and I can’t describe that feeling.
I grew up long ago, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when blue, red, and white ribbons were given for first, second, and third place. Back then, earning a B meant you were above average, and earning an A meant you were excellent. Participation was its own reward, the act of showing up unworthy of special acknowledgment.
I grew up to be a confident realist. I know the difference between what I do extraordinarily well and what I do poorly. I know I’m a mediocre singer and a below-average guitar player, but when I do them together, I can make some pretty good songs. Mediocrity is sometimes the means to an outstanding end.
I also grew up to be the same kind of mother as my own—one who is delighted by what her children can do, who is proud, who is frequently verklempt, and who encourages them to excel at artistic endeavors, despite knowing that it may keep them poor, because it makes their lives so rich.
My daughter played her new song for me on Friday, shortly after she wrote it. I listened patiently, ideas and thoughts about how she could improve it swirling around in my brain. When she was finished, I told her it was “very nice,” thanked her for sharing it, and left the room.

We busied ourselves with dinner preparation, and eventually, with a hint of trepidation, Serena broached the subject of her song. She was a little annoyed with me. Did I really like it? Did she really want to know?

We all desire approval, and we don’t want people to think too hard about it because they might notice that a word isn’t perfect or that we settled for the most predictable rhyme (again!)—run with gun, anymore with door—or that we played a big, fancy lick when understatement would have been much more powerful at that moment. So she wasn’t happy to hear that even though I liked it, I thought seven minutes was too long for a slow song and eight times was too many to repeat the same line. She remained annoyed with me all night.
Some parents would have applauded and kissed their wonderful children. And some children would keep hitting the nail on the side or missing it altogether. When do they learn that the things we do well even as experienced adults don’t come out of us perfectly formed any more than our dent-headed children did? How does a 16-year-old girl’s song achieve absolute perfection between brain and page? Under-scrutiny is a recipe for a lifetime of mediocrity. (This is only a blog post, but I will have edited it for hours and days before I publish it, and even after that, I will wish I’d written this paragraph differently and better.)
I used to call my daughter the Cal Ripken of Rock and Roll. Serena shows up and plays her heart out. She does so many things well that she can make the team look its best by picking up the slack. She’s reliable, and she’s helpful. And that makes kids who play with her want to do their best, too.
But there are other times when she’s the Babe—the Bae—and knocks that shit out of the park.
I want her to know it every time. I want her to trust me when I tell her that she is spectacular. And the only way that can happen is if I also tell her when she’s not.
One day, when Serena is no longer living under my roof and my wing, and I don’t get to watch her compose music and listen to her noodle on the guitar, I’m going to see a video of some magnificent new song she’s sharing with the world, and I’m going to dial her number. She will answer the phone (if she’s still speaking to me), and I’ll say, “[sob] Hello [sob],” and she’ll say, “What’s the matter?” and I’ll tell her, “It’s [sob] so beautiful [sob],” and she’ll ask “What?” and I’ll say, “Your song. I don’t know how you do it.”

In that moment, she’ll know not only that she did it but how she did it. And getting a phone call like that one might even be why she keeps doing it throughout her spectacular life.



 

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The Tree—or Why the Jewish Girls Should Handle the Decorations http://fuquinay.com/2013/12/24/the-tree-or-why-the-jewish-girls-should-handle-the-decorations/ http://fuquinay.com/2013/12/24/the-tree-or-why-the-jewish-girls-should-handle-the-decorations/#comments Tue, 24 Dec 2013 20:13:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2013/12/24/the-tree-or-why-the-jewish-girls-should-handle-the-decorations/ Every year, we hem and haw over whether we’re getting a Christmas tree: the expense, the work, the time, the mess—it’s all a hassle. Yet every year, we get The Tree. It’s always $65, and it’s always the same amount of work.

I move the furniture, I ride along to make sure we choose the best tree, I screw the stand into the stump, I bring the lights and ornaments down from the attic, I string the lights, I put the ornaments on the tree with a little help from my daughter until she becomes bored.  When I grow sick of The Tree and the space it commands in front of the window, I bring down the ornament boxes, put the ornaments away, take down the lights and roll them up carefully, haul all the decorative Christmas crap back to the attic and store it neatly under the eaves, drag the tree out to the lawn, sweep the needles, and move all the furniture back to its comfortable place.

My husband’s job couldn’t be simpler: take the tree out of the truck, bring it into the house, and put it in the stand. Sometimes: saw a few inches off the bottom. Sometimes: straighten the tree so I can re-screw it.
But Marty feels he has another important job, which has necessitated the annual tradition known as Tree Begging. It begins the day after Thanksgiving with a discussion of whether and when we’ll get The Tree. My Jewish daughter and I want it right away. My husband, who grew up with Christmas trees, doesn’t want it at all. Every day, we see if that’s the day we can get The Tree. Because it’s going to happen, and it’s going to cost $65.
This year, that day was the Sunday before Christmas.
Our next annual tradition is the discussion about where we’ll buy The Tree. It’s always Walther Gardens, six-tenths of a mile from our house. My husband argues that it’s too expensive, that we should go to that one place on Loch Raven with the $20.99 “Tree’s.” I argue that spending money in our own neighborhood benefits us and supports good spelling.

With only six trees remaining on the Walther Gardens lot, choosing The Tree was easy. We took the $65 one.

This year, Marty didn’t have to saw the stump. But since my back hurt from moving all the furniture, I asked my husband to take over the lights. It had been awhile since he had shown any tree-decorating initiative. 

First, he made himself a drink of absinthe, a Christmas gift from me, which he sipped slowly while watching videos of his daughter on YouTube while I made Fuquinay Gnog.

Then Marty fixed his second absinthe cocktail and set about the important work of wrapping the tree with lights, taking care to tuck the strands into the tree and weave the branches in and out where necessary, creating a uniform and glorious display of random flashes of color and beauty.  After he began, I peeked out from the kitchen to check on his progress. I clicked my tongue a few times and sighed heavily and paced, returning to the kitchen. Every time I interrupted, he asked whether I wanted to do it myself, and I did not. I didn’t. I did not want to do it myself. So I sat at the table playing Candy Crush Saga and did not look until he was finished.

The absinthe, it seemed, worked.  Because my husband was obviously hallucinating. The green strands of light cord were sticking out at all angles, with drunken loops like elf jump ropes. Lights were strung vertically. VERTICALLY!

I suddenly recalled why my husband was relegated to taking the tree out of the truck, bringing it into the house, and putting it in the stand. Sometimes sawing a few inches off the bottom. Sometimes straightening the tree so I can re-screw it.

The Jewish women of the house hurled insults at him like so many balls, deriding his work—both ethic and product. And when he left to walk the dogs, we de-lighted The Tree.  Serena and I unwrapped the six strands of lights my husband had just installed, cussing and shaking our heads with disgust over the tasteless display.
Our Christmas tree is now festively—and tastefully—adorned. A Hungarian tapestry is our tree skirt, and the gifts I wrapped in sparkly paper wait below to be torn open.  (The presents I ordered for myself from my husband—I got me two photo backdrops and a stand from him—sit unwrapped.)

Tonight, if all goes as it usually does, Marty will come back from a last-minute emergency trip to the drugstore and, when I am not looking, drip large, silver clumps of that tacky tinsel all over my work. That my daughter is his co-conspirator is largely how I know she is his.

By the 26th, I’ll be ready to chuck The Tree out on the lawn, but I’ll let it stay until January 1st. And from that moment on, I’ll look forward to doing it all again next year.
Happy Holidays to you and yours. And by that I mean Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May you get everything you need but only a few of the things you want. 
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the ABCs of gratitude: a thank-you note to my life http://fuquinay.com/2013/11/29/the-abcs-of-gratitude-a-thank-you-note-to-my-life/ http://fuquinay.com/2013/11/29/the-abcs-of-gratitude-a-thank-you-note-to-my-life/#comments Fri, 29 Nov 2013 12:30:00 +0000 http://fuquinay.com/2013/11/29/the-abcs-of-gratitude-a-thank-you-note-to-my-life/ What follows is an incomplete and sometimes incoherent list of things I’m grateful for right now, in my post-eggnog cheesecake stupor.

Art—Paintings, sculpture, architecture, design, photography, music, theater, poetry: I can’t live without them. Even camping in the woods wouldn’t be tolerable without some art in it—reading or writing a poem, snapping a photo of sunset at Lava Point. I value the artist above all to make up for his devaluation every day, especially now that online content is stolen.The teacher and the doctor and the scientist and mathematician and speech pathologist and plumber are all important, and they’re told every day that someone pays them with real money instead of website traffic or popularity. But we need to recognize that nearly everything we use, do, see, and need has an artist, not necessarily a doctor or a plumber, behind it somewhere. Honorable Mention: Alphabet—Fuckin’ a, fuckin’ b, fuckin’ c, and so on, which allows me to make words and write. 
Baltimore—I owe you a love song, Baltimore. You rock. You cook. You class me up. And you don’t care if I wear slippers or curlers to the store, not that I would, but you might have thought those were slippers when in fact they were furry clogs. Your architecture makes our sunsets magnificent. Your trees make our sunrises possible. And your people butter my biscuits. 
Crows—This morning as I write, there’s a crow barking outside my window. I could watch the birds for hours, and I have. Thank you, Corvus brachyrhynchos, and your glossy blue-black brethren. 
Dogs—A house without a dog is a quieter and less hairy house, but it’s one I don’t want. (I’m also thankful for the dog walkers, since I’m not well-built for leash use.)  On the subject of dogs versus cats, let me just say that you never hear about the crazy dog lady. 
Eggnog cheesecake. Honorable Mention: Elastic, necessary due to eggnog cheesecake.
Family, Friends, and the F-word—It’s a three-way tie. You can’t ever have enough of all three, except when you have too much. I couldn’t name names because there are just too many, but I’m thinking of six people in particular who have had me in their thoughts more often than I deserve. I’ll leave you to wonder. (If you think it’s you, it might be, but only half of them would even think it was.)
Guitar, Guild GAD 30—Next to the saxomophone, it’s my favorite instrument, and I’m so lucky that I get to live in a house full of guitar players. That everyone plays so much better than I do is the best part. I am serenaded even when I don’t want to be, and that’s rare. I just wish they’d all play the Taylor instead.
Home—I have a house. The windows leak, so it’s cold upstairs. The bathroom toilet doesn’t flush unless you hold the handle for ten seconds. The kitchen floor is cracked, and the cabinets are water damaged; the sink is rusting around the countertop, whose veneer is unglued. My house is small, but it is home. It’s made of stone and brick, and it’s topped with slate. And nearly everything I could want or need is inside. Behind a painting in the kitchen are the marks of Serena’s height since she could stand.
I—That’s right. I’m thankful for me.  I’m brave. I have nice hair. I work hard. And I never pretend to be someone I’m not. I yam what I yam, you dig?
Job—I have a job. And though I wish it were closer to my home and less hard on my soul, I’m no fool. I have one, and it keeps me in all the material things above and below the J, and it makes the non-material things a little easier. I have gripes. But I have gratitude, too, and they can coexist.
Kitchen—It’s served me well, mostly, for 20 years. For the last 16, our kitchen table has been the place we come together to talk and watch the news. We have dinner together almost every night. But more than a place to eat, the kitchen is really the living room. Our friends visit and play music in it (the acoustics are nice because of the tile floor), drink a beer, eat cake. We do our homework there. I wrote a whole book there. And as soon as we remodel, I’ll be writing another one in that kitchen.
Love. Laughter. Light. Life. Latex. So many L-words to be thankful for.
Music—Even bad music is preferable than no music at all. Well, except this. Honorable Mention: Marty, who risked his life to deep fry a Thanksgiving turkey and who cleaned for three hours after Thanksgiving. He does stuff 365 days a year, and a lot of it is music.
Nikon D600—I don’t ever see fully without it. By the end of the year, I’ll have taken 6,000 photos with it. 
Orgasms—They are the dessert of love. If one ever lasted as long as an amusement park ride, you’d probably be dead when it ended.

Pale Ale—this is liquid joy, effervescence, exuberance in a glass.  I could live without it, but why? Honorable Mention: Poetry. I could live without it, but why?

Quilt—There’s a quilt on my bed that’s a little too thin for winter, but I can’t bring myself to replace it with a comforter. I bought it right after my father died. It was the first time he spoke to me since his death. He said, “You want it?  I’ll buy it.” So even though it was my money, he bought it. 
Repartee—I love some clever banter with my very witty friends. Honorable Mention: Rum, which makes others’ rejoinders seem even more clever than they are.
Sleep—You take it for granted until you can’t do it anymore. I went through so many years of being unable to fall asleep on my own, and now, every night that I sleep is a day I’m grateful.  Honorable Mention: Sonata—because when I can’t sleep, there’s that. Honorable Mention 2: Shiatsu—because even if it weren’t responsible for my continued ability to postpone back surgery, it’s two hours a week of complete letting go.  Oh, wait. Did you say S? Serena, of course.
The Boys are Back in Town,” by Thin Lizzy—one of my top five favorite songs of all time got better this year.


Unders/Underwear—You know, the stuff you wear under your clothes. Every time you call them panties, a pervert gets out of jail. Panties are little pants. 
Verbs—They are the hardest working part of speech for a reason.
Werther’s Originals (sugar-free!)—I used to think these were candies for old people, but when I turned 50, I discovered how delicious they are.
Xanax—Because everybody needs a little break from my neuroses for a few hours.
You—Are you reading this? Still? You. 

Zicam*—It stops your cold. It makes everything taste like metal, too, which helps you not eat the rest of the eggnog cheesecake.

May the time between now and next year’s big dry bird be full of things that make us grateful. That is my wish for mankind.

– – – –

*I feel like Z was anti-climactic. But I’m not that into zebras or zygotes or zithers, and I’ve never been to Zanzibar. 

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